Editor’s note: The Equity and Empowerment Commission made several key moves on major Evanston issues during its meeting on Oct. 19. Please read about its affordable housing recommendations.

The Equity and Empowerment Commission took a strong stance in support of gender equity during its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The commission is recommending that all city ordinances remove gendered pronouns, such as “he” and “she,” and use gender-neutral pronouns “they,” “them” and “their.”

“There is no way to enforce existing gendered laws respectfully, and no human should be made to justify their gender to a police officer,” says the Commission’s memo in support of updating the nudity ordinance. 

The debate over updating the city’s public nudity ordinance has bounced around a handful of committees. The commissions’s recommendations regarding this ordinance, however, may have an impact on all of the city’s ordinances.

The commission voted to submit a memo featuring its recommendations regarding the nudity ordinance to the Human Services Commission. The commission outlined several reasons why it thinks the nudity ordinance, as it stands, isn’t equitable.

The city defines nudity as “showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic areas or buttocks or female breast with less than a fully opaque covering … below the top of the nipple.”

The commission found that the city’s ordinance establishes a different set of rules for residents based on their gender, and that it reinforces the hypersexualization of women and enforces gender conformity.

“This ordinance puts nonbinary and genderqueer individuals in harm’s way as they can present in a myriad of gender expressions,” says the memo, addressing issues with the current nudity ordinance. “What appears to be a ‘female nipple’ to an officer could be a transitioning trans male human nipple, a heavier-set cis male nipple or a nonbinary person’s nipple.”

Although the commission was tasked with determining if the nudity ordinance is equitable, the commission made additional recommendations within the same topic.

The commission recommended that all of the city’s ordinances be updated to gender-neutral language. The ordinances use “he or she” a lot, commission Chair Karla Thomas said. The commission recommends that the ordinances use the pronouns “they,” “them” and “their.”

“It should just be ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘their,’ because otherwise it’s not covering the whole spectrum,” Thomas said in an interview after the Wednesday night meeting.

The commission also recommended replacing the public nudity ordinance with a public indecency ordinance.

How does this compare?

The RoundTable investigated how the city’s nudity ordinance compares to neighboring cities and found the majority of surrounding cities had indecency ordinances rather than nudity.

Thomas said the nudity ordinance focuses on what body parts shouldn’t be seen regardless of the intention. But the indecency ordinance focuses on whether the exposure of the body is intended to be sexual.

“As we looked at the gender in the ordinance, we’re also seeing that the whole concept of policing the body is really not the business you want to be in,” Thomas said in an interview. “We do want to make sure people aren’t flashing penises at young girls, right, but it’s the sexual nature we’re trying to avoid.”

The Human Services Commission will now review the Equity and Empowerment Commission’s findings and the City Council will have the final decision on updating the nudity ordinance. Back in April, it asked the Evanston community to share its input on racial equity issues in the city. Now, the commission is working on ways to share the results of the survey with the public and city.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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  1. I’m in favor of just removing the topless ordinance altogether, I think it’s pointless. However, if they keep it and try to wordsmith in such a way to make it inclusive, that’s going to be a real doozy to read and interpret. Under the current ordinance, a cis-gender woman could just go topless but identify as a man and be compliant? This is all very confusing and the cops shouldn’t have to ask people their gender identity to enforce laws, just scrap the ordinance. Nobody is pounding on the doors to go topless at the beaches here.